If you’re taking on Hollywood – and you’re Apple – you’d better launch with a show that reflects the zeitgeist, and asks difficult questions, with aspirations to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Step forward, The Morning Show, which Apple bought from Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon – who star in, executive produce and own the show – for the equivalent of Dhs1.1 billion in 2017 in a bidding war among streaming services, to be the flagship drama for the launch of Apple TV+.
The newsroom drama was inspired by the book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter, then – plot twist – the #MeToo movement gained momentum in Hollywood, following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Jennifer and Reese realised they now had the responsibility to tell a very different story.
The show follows the fall-out after breakfast TV anchor Jennifer Aniston’s character’s co-host, Mitch Kessler (played by Steve Carell), is fired for alleged misconduct. Reese explains, “As artists, we try to find the shreds of humanity in any crisis and open people’s minds to see all sides of things. What does it mean to be a person who loses their entire life? Their family. Their career. The #MeToo movement has been so emotional on all sides. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be the spouse or the child of one of these people who was exposed. With the men, we ask, Where is the contrition? How are they supposed to behave? It’s fascinating to be part of this conversation and be creating characters that look at every side of the #MeToo experience.”
Reese plays Bradley Jackson, the local reporter who freely admits she “doesn’t fit the mould” and is pegged as his replacement – initially to mixed feelings from Jennifer’s character, Alex Levy. On their on-screen relationship, Reese continues, “Our characters are two people with very similar goals but different ideologies because of their backgrounds. Jen’s character existed in a world that was dominated by men. Just the fact that she existed was all that mattered. My character is like, ‘Hold on, no, no, no. If you’re not bringing other women with you, what are you doing?’ It’s not antagonistic or competitive,” she insists. “It’s second-wave feminism meets fourth-wave feminism.”
In one scene, Cory Ellison, the head of The Morning Show, played by Billy Crudup, declares, “We are in the middle of an epic rebirth” – a statement that not only applies to the storyline but also to Hollywood itself. “I think there’s still room for improvement,” concedes Jennifer, “but I think that kind of behaviour is done. It’s also this big pendulum. Everybody has this new playbook and everybody’s trying to figure out what the new rules are. But what’s so wonderful about doing this show is that it is so unapologetically honest, in terms of topics and the situations. It’s basically showing all sides. It’s showing how things are said behind closed doors during #MeToo that no one else has the guts to say in front of the world.”
Jennifer remains hopeful. She acknowledges, “I think it’s an incredible moment. You have to make people think it’s not a choice anymore. This is actually the new normal, as it should be. And I think it’s going to get better and better. Our show has six female producers. As a woman who has been in this business for 30 years, it’s been great and it’s been tough. And now here we are. We have the first show bought by Apple.”
The Morning Show has been commissioned for two seasons, with Jennifer and Reese each earning a reported Dhs7.4 million per episode, so it’s also addressing the gender pay gap. And as British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Hannah Shonfeld, observes from her spot on set, “When there are strong women at the helm, and women like Jen and Reese are producing the show and have a strong influence in how it all unfolds, it only raises the game for all women in the industry.”